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Regional declaration issued

REGIONAL leaders adopted an agreement, dubbed The Phnom Penh Declaration, yesterday in a bid to help improve economic coordination across five nations.

Signed at the five-nation Ayeyaway-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) summit held in Cambodia’s Peace Building, the declaration was signed by the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The statement recognised “the need for the ACMECS countries to redouble their efforts individually, bilaterally and collectively to move ACMECS forward for the prosperity and well-being of our peoples”.

It stated support for investment and trade facilitation, the agricultural sector, the industrial and energy sector, transport links, tourism, human resource development, public health and the environment.

It also set out a two-year “plan of action” to implement projects related to the development of such sectors.

Agricultural development was singled out as a priority sector by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who pushed for increase cooperation on rice production and exports.

“It is important that our cooperation in rice production and exports be strengthened further. ACMECS countries can be considered a ‘rice bowl’ of the world”, Hun Sen said, in his opening speech at the summit.

Organisation members –Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam - export 45 percent of rice to world markets, Hun Sen said, while Thailand and Vietnam currently lead the world in exports.

Cambodia aims to increase domestic annual rice exports to 1 million tonnes by 2015.

During talks, the five prime ministers agreed to establish a “rice cooperation mechanism” within the regional bloc to further coordinate agricultural production.

“I hope that the agricultural production sector, especially rice production, will become an important element of our cooperation in the future,” Hun Sen said.

“I believe that more efforts will be required in order to elevate cooperation to a level that we wish to be” he said.

However, financial constraints – raised by Hun Sen yesterday – have limited the number of projects on the table in Cambodia, Loas, Myammar and Vietnam (CLMV).

The Prime Minster said financial constraints had forced the countries to reduce its planned projects – under the CLMV – grouping from 58 to 16, and urged his colleagues to engage other development partners, such as Japan, China, South Korea and India.

Members also stated support for ridding visa requirements for 30-day visits by citizens within the five countries. Cambodia and Thailand, represented by foreign ministers Hor Namhong and Kasis Piromya, also signed an agreement exempting Cambodian and Thai citizens holding ordinary passports from visa requirements to facilitate the flow of businesspeople and tourists.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the visa exemption would become effective in 30 days and would allow visitors to stay 14 days.

“The signing of the visa exemption is part of the effort to integrate an ASEAN community by 2015, and to boost tourists and trade”, he said.

ACMECS leaders also addressed recommendations brought by the joint business council, after several hundred business leaders from the region met in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Hun Sen said ACMECS had agreed to: expedite contract farming within ACMECS, promote the use of local currencies, review possibilities to implement the single visa scheme, strengthen the business council, and accelerate a “sister city” programme amongst border towns.

He also called upon the private sector to meet governments half-way.

“The business community also has the same mutual responsibility – reform cannot be implemented just from one side”, he said.

“So we have a two-way relationship. There must be reform from both sides.”

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